8 tips: How to do a Gatlinburg trip on a budget

Downtown Gatlinburg TN

Gatlinburg is a popular tourist destination, but it's possible to enjoy a Gatlinburg trip on a budget (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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Gatlinburg is an idyllic mountain village designed to vacuum tourists’ money directly from their pockets while distracting them with scenic views, pancakes and bear-themed tchotchkes.

With all this money vacuuming going on, it can be hard to know where to start for your vacation budget.

How much does a trip to Gatlinburg cost?

The final number of how much you could spend on a trip to Gatlinburg is completely dependent on your activities.

There are probably a million factors: Where you stay, how much you eat out, how many attractions you see and do, the list goes on.

But not everything in Gatlinburg costs an arm and a leg, there’s still plenty to do for a family on a budget. Here are some of the best ways to enjoy a mountain getaway without breaking the bank.

Gatlinburg trolley
For $2 you can get an all-day pass for the trolley (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

7. Ride the Trolley

Traffic in Gatlinburg can be a nightmare. Getting around town and back and forth to Pigeon Forge can eat up your gas budget pretty quickly.

The trolley system can get you around town, serve as a scenic tour and offers 200 stops.

With the trolley, you can get an all-day pass that serves every route except for the National Park and Dollywood routes.

Those are $2 each, round trip.

Also, while the Gatlinburg Trolley connects to the Pigeon Forge Trolley, they are separate systems and you’ll have to pay Pigeon Forge for access to their trolleys.

Read Also: Tips on how to avoid traffic in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg

6. Go camping

I know it’s a wild concept but people used to go to the mountains to enjoy the wilderness.

There are some great campgrounds around Gatlinburg, Camp LeConte Luxury Outdoor Retreat is one.

While there are options for campers or RVs, there are also primitive campsites available where you can pitch a tent and experience a little more of the mountain life.

LeConte also offers pre-set up campers, tents and luxury treehouses but those experiences, while not expensive, wouldn’t be considered budget options.

The nice part about staying in a campground?

It becomes part of the experience.

Cooking out at night, spending the day at the pool or exploring your temporary community, a family vacation camping will be a lot more memorable than a couple of nights at the Hampton Inn.

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg costs only $3 per ticket (photo by Amanda Lee/TheSmokies.com)

5. Check out the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

How many salt and pepper shaker museums are in the United States?

Not very many. But Gatlinburg’s Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is one of only a handful of salt and pepper shaker galleries in the country, and it features a collection of over 20,000 shaker sets and 1,500 pepper mills from around the world.

The museum is definitely an interesting stop on your Gatlinburg vacation and sets you back only $3 per ticket.

Read Also: Shake things up at the Salt and Pepper Shake Museum of Gatlinburg

4. Try a game of mini-golf

When vacationing on a budget, you’ve got to factor time into your activity value equation. Sure go karts and laser tag can be fun.

But they’re over quickly and you’ve spent your budget and have a lot of time left to sit and watch traffic.

Mini-golf, however, can take some time.

Plus, many of the courses offer reduced rates if you play more than 18 holes. You can have a lot of fun swinging your club like Chi-Chi Rodriquez after every putt and get some real value for your money.

3. People watch

This isn’t something I’d advise for families because kids haven’t developed the necessary filters to covertly people watch.

Plus they’ll get bored and run into traffic.

But for the more seasoned among us, get a drink, maybe some popcorn, find a spot on a bench on the strip and watch the waves of humanity roll by.

I’m 46. I’ve spent the better part of my life at various functions, amusing the hell out of myself with sarcastic comments, observations and general churlishness that I would never dare utter aloud.

Go watch some people.

But, a word of warning, keep your poker face on at all times. If you’ve got a particularly expressive mug, someone might catch on and you don’t want that kind of trouble.

2. Sample moonshine and wine

Moonshine is a staple of East Tennessee culture, and the best part is, it’s quite affordable to partake in some sampling.

Some folks offer free samples, while others charge a whopping $5. (Tip your servers, though).

The hard part will be leaving without buying your own weight in moonshine.

Daytime photo of a Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few free national parks in the country (stock photo)

1. Explore the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Look, I shouldn’t have to tell you this one. One of the great natural wonders of the world is right there at your fingertips, get out and enjoy.

Hike. Fish. Explore.

We used to ride through the park and pick a random roadside mountain peak. We’d park and see who could climb to the top fastest. Splash in the streams.

Enjoy the wilderness.

All of the stuff back in town is fun but the whole reason Gatlinburg exists as a destination is in the forests of that park.

We’ve written about dozens of places you can go, things you can do.

Find a picnic area; get some hot dogs and some charcoal and a watermelon for dessert. You wouldn’t do any better or make any more memories if you were in the fanciest restaurant in town.

Read Also: Top 10 things you can do in the Smokies for free

One of the most popular ways to soak in the Smokies is through Cades Cove.

It’s drivable, it’s historic and it’s a great opportunity to see wildlife from the safety of your car.

What are your tips for a budget-friendly Gatlinburg vacation? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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